Top Six Black British icons

By Porsha Nunes-Brown, Network and Communications Officer

Black Britons have contributed enormously to Britain and the wider world. To honour Black History Month, I have highlighted the achievements and work of 6 Black British icons, but there are many more notable individuals that could have been included in this blog piece.

  1. Mary Seacole – Born in Jamaica in 1805 to a Scottish father and Jamaican mother. Seacole travelled to Crimea War in the 1850s to open a treatment centre for injured soldiers. She referred to it as “a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers”. She was rejected four times from joining the official nursing ranks, which led to her travelling individually. For many years Seacole’s contributions were largely overshadowed by the work of Florence Nightingale. However, Seacole has received increasing recognition with a statue in the grounds of St Thomas Hospital and being named the greatest Black Briton in 2004.
  2. Sir Trevor McDonald – A career in media lasting over 50 years, McDonald was born in Trinidad and Tobago in 1939. He started his career at BBC Radio working as a producer. He moved to Independent Television News (ITN) in 1973. He has interviewed a number of high profile individuals including Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Tony Blair. In 1999, he received a knighthood for his career in journalism and he was awarded a BAFTA fellowship at the 2011 British Academy Television Awards. In 2015 with an interview with the Daily Express, he shared his biggest regret was the amount of time he spent abroad, stating he “you become so single-minded and I couldn’t wait to get on a plane to the next big story. I missed out on a lot of time with my family and friends”. 
  3. Margaret Busby OBE – The youngest and first black women to become a book publisher, born in Ghana with Caribbean roots. In 1967, she co-founded Allison and Busby and served as the Editorial Director for 20 years. The company published several authors including CLR James, Same Greenlee, Alexis Lykiard, Andrew Salkey and many more. She has written for The Guardian, New Statesmen, The Sunday Times and The Independent. Busby has been awarded numerous accolades and awards from an OBE in 2006 to an honorary fellowship from the University of Queen Mary.
  4. Benjamin Zephaniah – Born in Birmingham to Caribbean parents, Zephaniah wears many hats including poet, novelist, playwright, musician and television presenter. His career spans over thirty years with many highlights including, his first children poetry book ‘Talking Turkeys’ staying at the top of the children’s’ book list for months. He has commanded the respect of his peers and the people, being described as “a one off. He seeks no prizes, doesn’t much like awards, and is suspicious of authority. He has never had a person or team promoting him, his popularity has come from the people he has inspired”. According to BBC national poll, he was voted the nation’s third favourite poet of all time.
  5. Arthur Wharton – The world’s first black professional footballer. Born in Ghana in 1865, he went on to play as an amateur for Darlington and Preston North End, and professionally for Rotherham Town and Sheffield United. Shaun Campbell, an artist spearheaded a nationwide campaign to celebrate the achievements of Wharton, gaining support from Stevie Wonder, Rio Ferdinand and Sepp Blatter. The Wharton Foundation was created to promote racial harmony, equality and diversity.
  6. Stuart Hall – Born in Jamaica, was referred to as the “godfather of multiculturalism”. He won a scholarship to Oxford University in 1951, later becoming one of Britain’s top political and cultural intellectuals, having started off his career as a research fellow at Britain’s first centre for cultural studies at the University of Birmingham. He held many positions including a Professor of Sociology at the Open University and in 2005, he was made a fellow of the British Academy.


The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.